By Russell Berman - 11/17/11 06:01 PM EST
Congressional leaders said they have yet to take over deadlocked supercommittee discussions that are going nowhere fast.
The lingering stalemate has prompted suggestions that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will have to take over the negotiations from the 12 members that they, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), appointed to the committee.
Supercommittee Democrats and Republicans have continued to meet separately, but have not met together for days, with a Nov. 23 deadline for reaching a deal fast approaching. Sources say side discussions are continuing, but doubts are growing that the group will be able to meet even its minimum requirement of $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts.
The Speaker has been heavily involved on the Republican side of the negotiations, meeting frequently with GOP members of the panel, though he has resisted the perception that he is running the show.
“Don’t suggest that we haven’t been involved,” Boehner told reporters Thursday at a news conference, noting the amount of discussion he’d had over the last two months with supercommittee members.
“The leaders created this, and frankly I think the leaders have some responsibility to help the committee succeed, and that is what we’ve been doing,” Boehner said.
“They’re well aware of what we’re willing to do,” he said, before quickly adding: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. The problems we’ve had all year is getting to ‘yes.’”
The two sides appear far apart on the key issue of how to balance spending cuts and tax hikes, and Democrats on Thursday sought to hammer home their argument that a GOP divide over taxes is hampering progress toward a deal.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), co-chairman of the supercommittee, said the challenge is for Republicans to resolve their differences on taxes.
Separately, Pelosi used her news conference to hit Republicans as more beholden to Grover Norquist and his no-tax pledge than to their constituents and country.
“There are some who think or have suggested that the oath to Mr. Norquist is more important than other oaths that members take,” said Pelosi, who noted automatic cuts to defense spending would be triggered without a supercommittee deal.
Republicans are keen on avoiding those cuts, but there is turmoil within the GOP over agreeing even to the deal put forward by supercommittee Republicans.
That proposal would lower marginal tax rates permanently, giving the wealthiest tax bracket an 8-percentage-point tax cut. It would also limit deductions, raising $300 billion in new net tax revenues.
Some Republicans say that is going too far, and the conservative anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity announced this week that it was targeting 40 GOP lawmakers in the House whom the group believes could agree to higher taxes. The Americans for Prosperity campaign includes radio advertisements in a number of states.
While Democrats have made proposals, he noted that the party’s supercommittee members have never coalesced around a plan.
Boehner offered no new details on the current state of negotiations and declined an opportunity to clarify how much new tax revenue the GOP is willing to generate from an agreement.
He did say that he remained opposed to using budget savings from the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay for new spending, as Democrats have suggested.
“I’ve made it pretty clear that those savings that are coming as a result of winding down the war in Iraq and Afghanistan should be banked, and should not be used to offset other spending,” he said.
New end-of-year spending to extend the payroll-tax cut or unemployment insurance benefits, or to address Medicare reimbursement rates, Boehner said, must “be done in a fiscally sound manner. Period.”